Pollinators: what’s all the buzz about?

Pollination is the transfer of pollen from a male part of a plant to a female part of a plant, enabling later fertilization and the production of fruits and/or seeds. According to latest Living Planet Report 2018 by WWF, the majority of flowering plants need pollination, as much as “from an average of 78% in temperate-zone communities to 94% in tropical communities“!

Between 100,000 and 200,000 species of animal act as pollinators of the world’s 250,000 species of flowering plant, as per Wikipedia. The majority of these pollinators are insects (more than 20,000 species of bees, many other types of insects e.g. flies, butterflies, moths, wasps and beetles), but about 1,500 species of birds and mammals also visit flowers and may transfer pollen between them. Our food production depends heavily upon these pollinators – more than 75% of the leading global food crops. From economic point of view, pollination increases the global value of crop production by US$235-577 billion per year to growers alone and keeps prices down for consumers by ensuring stable supplies.

Agricultural intensification (through use of pesticides) and urban expansion is one of a number of key drivers of pollinator loss, especially when natural areas, that provide foraging and nesting resources, are degraded or disappear. The abundance, diversity and health of pollinators is also threatened by a number of other drivers including a changing climate, air and noise pollution, invasive species and emerging diseases and pathogens (as I learned in a local crash-course I recently attended – photos here -, domestic bees in Europe are now entirely dependent on humans for medication and protection from invasive parasites, from which they have no natural immunity).

Pollinators are the foundation for a stable ecosystem. If only a few species of plants depended on pollinators the overall effect would not be as devastating however, but this is not the case! As the artistic graffiti shows below, this is bad news for all ecosystem, including wildlife and people, the world as we know it would vanish! In this regard, to help humans be more environmentally responsible, we made few suggestions to follow (on our @Eco page) in our daily lives, to avoid such a terrible probability, knowing the risk is real and time is running out!

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Power of example

There is nothing more pleasant than a walk in the country side, on a sunny autumn day! Very fast you come to accept the slower pace of life – meaning the normal pace of life, the one that exists outside office and city life but you are not very familiar with lately – and you come to terms with nature, which gets along its way regardless. This time of year, trees and wildlife prepare for the colder season, already the lower temperature at night and shorter days have turned the leaves yellow or red, just before falling on the ground and turning into rich black soil, from which fresh life will flourish next spring, resuming relentlessly the cycle of life! The sheep are coming down from the mountains to lower winter grounds, a nice spectacle to watch, still unfolding in many corners of the world, whereas some wildlife species have their underground borrows ready, storing latest provisions from the rich autumn menu – forest fruits, acorn, nuts, herbs etc, in preparation for hibernation!

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However one thing disturbed the picture and my peace of mind, the plastics left behind by the ubiquitous consumer. But I did come prepared, as this is not something new I come across in nature, so I rolled my sleeves, dived in, and almost filled the two large bags I brought with me, leaving behind a clean trail, and making sure I showed my capture to all the passer-by, existing consumer and maybe, future environmentalists! Power of example, you find it in any specialty books, and doesn’t apply to office activities only, nature can also benefit, if you are willing to contribute!

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Ideally this plastic can now be recycled, but at least it wont turn into micro-plastic to be swollen by births or fish, once it reaches rivers and eventually seas and oceans!

At the end of the day, I was very happy I could turn a favor to the Nature, after spending such a wonderful day outdoor, so I not only relaxed, but also came back home with a great sense of satisfaction! Try it sometimes, you will understand what I mean! 😉

Wildlife crossings

During the early 20th century, with the development of the internal combustion engine and the automobile, infrastructure had to be adapted. As Wendell Berry puts it in his “The World-Ending Fire” book, we moved FROM paths, described as a little more than a habit that comes with knowledge of a place, a sort of ritual of familiarity, a form of contact with a known landscape TO roads, whose reason is not simply the necessity for movement, but haste, wishing to avoid contact with landscape, seeking to go over the country rather than through it, its tendency being to translate place into space in order to traverse it with least effort. A road is destructive, seeking to remove or destroy all obstacles in its way.

FROM paths:

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Today’s road infrastructure looks as science-fiction already, keeping us disconnected from life beyond the windshields and, as Wendell Berry mentions, a road advances by destruction of forest, or in case of modern roads, by destruction of topography.

TO roads:

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The development of roads affects wildlife by altering and isolating habitat and populations, deterring the movement of wildlife, and resulting in extensive wildlife mortality, roadkill becoming a common sight in most industrialized nations. Very large numbers of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and invertebrates are killed on the world’s roads every day, the number in the United States being estimated at a million per day, an estimated 1.25 million insurance claims are filed annually due to collisions with deer, elk, or moose, amounting to 1 out of 169 collision damage claims. About 350,000 to 27 million birds are estimated to be killed on European roads each year. Not to mention the number of reptiles and insects as well…This is important because of the animal suffering, loss of wild animals (paving the way to extinction for many endangered species), road safety, and the economic impact on both drivers and road management. 

What can be done? As a driver always respect the speed limit and pay attention to the warning signs, in non-urban areas. Politicians could do even more, by including in the infrastructure budgets the so called wildlife crossings, which again, are a must, considering how much asset damage and suffering can avoid not only for wildlife, but also to their voters.

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Have a safe drive!

Trade of Wildlife

TRAFFIC, the Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network, is the leading non-governmental organization working globally on the trade of wild animals and plants in the context of both biodiversity and sustainable development. As per their definition, “Wildlife trade is any sale or exchange of wild animal and plant resources by people. This can involve live animals and plants or a diverse range of products needed or prized by humans—including skins, medicinal ingredients, tourist curios, timber, fish and other food products”.

As per their data as well as other official sources ,illegal wildlife trade is widespread and constitutes one of the major illegal economic activities, comparable to the traffic of drugs and weapons. In the early 1990s, crimes against wildlife were rampant in certain parts of the United States, and poaching may have equaled or exceeded the number of animals hunted legally (report). In other parts of the world, things get even worse, with entire trans-national supply chains and organized crime behind, from the field poachers to white collar intermediaries and further to consumers, trading the rare species (dead or alive) from wilderness on various continents to insatiable consumer markets in Asia, mainly China and Vietnam. The best known are the notorious ivory trade (with long history of various consumer countries introducing import-bans, sometimes removing them – as in case of relaxation of legislation in debate during Trump administration, or producer countries as Kenya/Tanzania burning the confiscated stocks) and rhino-horns trade, also mentioned in Misha Glenny‘s Mc Mafia book, notes @Facts.

In the zone I am more familiar with, Eastern Europe, I could say, with minimum risk of generalizing, that every person with a legal license for hunting has been at least once in his lifetime a poacher. And not only persons having a gun, but also the ones setting snares in the forest, that trap wildlife for consumption, their own, their families and friends, and even for small scale skin trade on local markets (unless a more influencing middlemen is involved, that can have cross-border connections to reach foreign customers). The profile of a such an opportunistic poacher in the region is of a man (18-70 years old), poor by local economic standards, with minimum education and no stable income, living at periphery of a forest (striking similarity with Frederic Rouge’s painting, dating couple of hundreds years ago, proving some people and practices may not have changed much meanwhile).

Le_braconnier_par_Frédéric_Rouge      The Poacher by Frédéric Rouge

Legal wildlife trade is regulated by the United Nations’ Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which currently has 183 member countries called Parties, and protects species listed under Appendix I threatened with extinction, with commercial trade in wild-caught specimens, or products derived from them, being prohibited. This rule applies to all species threatened with extinction, except in exceptional circumstances (and also explains what we have learned at Sigean, that they no longer host elephants in the park because they cannot import anymore).

TRAFFIC data:

From 2005 – 2009 the legal trade corresponded with these numbers:

  • 317,000 live birds
  • More than 2 million live reptiles
  • 2.5 million crocodile skins
  • 2.1 million snake skins
  • 73 tons of caviar
  • 1.1 million beaver skins
  • Millions of pieces of coral
  • 20,000 mammalian hunting trophies

In the 1990s the annual trade of legal animal products was $160 billion annually. In 2009 the estimated value almost doubled to $300 billion. This is a huge industry by any standard, and painful to see the scale of it and the trend evolution (even knowing that any ban, as in case of drugs, alcohol and cigarettes would just boost the black market)!

The way I see it, legal or illegal, there is no morality, or justification for exploiting other fellow species with which we are share the planet, to obtain material profit (remember less than 200 years ago, during mercantile capitalism times, even trade with human beings and slavery were considered acceptable and even encouraged for economic benefit of land lords and aristocrats, being practiced for over 250 years). Various parties are sharing the blame, with consumers at top. But once again, the main blame I assign to the current unsustainable economic system, which from birth encourages consumption, competition for resources, accumulation of wealth and prestige, and inequality among people. This, coupled with human nature, craving to have more and to sit above its peers, is a formula for disaster. Ignore this affirmation as you wish, especially the ones happy with current status quo, but in the end it will impact you, one way or the other, if we don’t start paying attention to environment, to its wildlife, and to our own consumption habits! Empathy, responsibility, accountability, conscience and compassion (for all around us, not only for yourself and peers) should define all society, not ease and oneself material interest, social status and power!

Wildlife parts, confiscated from smugglers or tourists, at display in Warsaw International Airport.

Why being vegetarian is good for you, for the planet and its wildlife

A very complete, very well documented and very convincing guide to all of you who care about the planet, about its wildlife diversity and ultimately about your own and your families health! Or for the ones wanting to learn more about the truth…

As per the author, being a vegetarian is a personal choice, and he is not directly trying to convince you to become one, but he offers the cold facts following extensive research and analysis of how/what the world is fed today (mostly by meat produced by factory farms, but as well as industrial irresponsible fishing), the inefficiency of the system, the misery and abuses incurred to animals all over the world (but mostly in developed world), the real cost of cheap meat and the growing ecological debt, how the biodiversity is killed in the process, how the “farmed” meat is impacting your health (author got motivated investigating and writing this book when learning he would become a father)…and this can only lead to clear conclusions (quotes from the book):

” The factory farm will come to an end because of its absurd economics someday. It is radically unsustainable. The earth will eventually shake off factory farming like a dog shakes off flees; the only question is weather we will get shaken off along with it…

There is something quite sinister about the scorched-earth style of “harvesting” sea animals. The average trawling operation throws 80 to 90 percent of the sea animals it captures as by-catch overboard. The least efficient operations actually throw more than 98 percent of captured sea animals, dead, back in the ocean.

The question of eating animals is ultimately driven by our own intuitions about what it means to reach an ideal we have named, perhaps incorrectly, “being humane”

To accept factory farm, to feed the food it produces to feed my family, to support it with my money – would make me less myself, less my grand-mother’s grandson, less my son’s father

Compassion is a muscle that gets stronger with use, and the regular exercise of choosing kindness over cruelty would change us…Choosing leaf over flesh, factory farm over family farm, does not in itself change the world, but teaching ourselves, our children, our local communities and our nation to choose conscience over ease can…

We cannot plead ignorance, only indifference. Those alive today are the generations that came to know better. We have the burden and opportunity of living in the moment when the critique of factory farming broke into the popular conscience.  We are the ones of whom it will be fairly asked, What did you do when you learned the truth about eating animals?”

Eating animals cover

And adding to the ethical, moral and ecological parts of the topic, is the scientific medical one as well. Do remember: “You ARE what you EAT” ! (click for the animation video for better understanding).

Think for yourself, if you are eating genetically modified, artificially fed (including pesticides), hormones injected and antibiotics saturated “farmed” animals with broken immune systems that are not even able to reproduce themselves, aren’t you passing all this to your body? There are diseases today which relate to what we eat that never existed before, and they don’t exist in the last tribes of people living in the forests (juvenile diabetes, inflammatory and autoimmune diseases, allergies, asthma, obesity, …). Thanks God we are still having Olympics – to keep the standard visible – and some people who care – like author Jonathan Safran Foer and others – otherwise we would simply take new reality as is, becoming ourselves “farmed” people, in a world where individual doesn’t matter, for the sake of “progress” of the specie (and material benefit of few others), not being even able anymore to judge for ourselves what governments and corporations are telling us and how that impacts us personally! As not only our health is compromised, but also our ability to judge, easily measured by the well known IQ coefficient, which continues to drop generation after generation. Among causes, as per this study issued by World Economic Forum, we cannot blame genetics for kids being less intelligent than parents, but quality of food and environment, and today’s technological gadgets and changing culture, that take away from us the challenging environment one needs to think, and the high quality food and clean air to assure the fuel for our brain cells! To remember that our ancestors increased brain sized when fire was discovered, allowing them to move to a high quality protein diet that could be assimilated by our digestive systems,  within an environment full of competition where only the most intelligent survived by outsmarting the other predators and allowed catching their pray, in hunter-gatherers type of culture/environment. Today, as Yuval Noah Harari, the author of Sapiens puts it, just because we know how to scroll down the screen of a smart phone doesn’t make us more intellectually-challenged than a hunter-gatherer that lived more than 70.000 years ago, trying to escape predators and catch his prey, with his senses sharpen at maximum moving through and mastering its environment in his favor!

More summary and quotes from the books, specific to wildlife, in the Facts area!

Famous Wildlife migrations

Birds do it. Fish and mammals do it, even insects and reptiles do it. Animals across the globe fly, swim or walk in their effort to find food or a more hospitable climate or places to breed. To be counted as a true migration, the movement of the animals should be an annual or seasonal occurrence. Migrants can use the sun, the stars, reflected light, the Earth’s magnetic field and their sense of smell to find their way.

The longest migration record is held by a bird, the Arctic terns, weighing in at less than 4.5 ounces (125 grams), flying around 25,000 miles (40,000 kilometers) from their Arctic breeding grounds to the Antarctic and back. But a few years ago, researchers fitted birds with miniature geolocators and discovered that some of them traveled more than 50,000 miles (80,000 km) in a year because of the meandering routes they took to exploit prevailing wind systems!

Arctic terns

Also famous in birds world, the Alaskan bar-tailed godwit, which apparently makes its eight-day, 6,835-mile autumn migration (11,000 km) from Alaska to New Zealand in one step, with no stopovers to rest or refuel!

The longest migration made by a land mammal is that of the caribou, which can travel 3,000 miles annually, in North America!

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In Africa, migrating wildebeest know there’s strength in numbers. They travel close to 1000 miles in a herd of over 1.5 million individuals, along with hundreds of thousands of zebra and gazelles, between Kenya and Tanzania.

On the other hand, the world’s largest mammal migration (in terms of numbers of individuals) occurs every October through December, when up to 10 million straw-coloured fruit bats migrate from the Congo to Zambia’s Kasanka National Park.

According to Guinness World Records, the leatherback sea turtle holds the record for the longest migration of any reptile. Astoundingly, a tagged turtle reportedly took 647 days to travel from its nesting site on the beaches of Papua, Indonesia, to its feeding grounds off the coast of Oregon in the United States.

Salmon fishes have one of most impressive migratory power in animal kingdom, they traverse between freshwater and saltwater. After hatching of eggs salmons remain in river waters for 2-3 years. During that time salmons undergo many physiological changes. These changes help them to migrate to seas waters without facing much obstacles. For next 3-4 years they prefer to live within salt water. Reproductive capacity within this species of fish will develop during that time. Then they migrate back to fresh water, the exact river where they born, return to home for spawning. The exceptional navigation power itself help salmons to make their return journey from saltwater to freshwater, their brain can detect exact magnetic field of their birth place. Their ability in jumping and sense of smell also help them during their extreme migration, will cover up to 3800 kilometers in a complete migration. You could then truly say the salmon’s live is one long migration route, with few preparation and transformation stages!

 

Demoiselle cranes have to take one of the toughest migrations in the world. In late August through September, they gather in flocks of up to 400 individuals and prepare for their flight to their winter range. During their migratory flight south reaching altitudes of 16,000–26,000 feet (4,900–7,900 metres), and along their arduous journey they have to cross the world’s highest mountains (Himalaya) to get to their over-wintering grounds in India.

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Like nomadic humans, animals migrate because it’s often difficult to survive if you remain in the same place all year long. By moving from one place to another, these animals also give their environments time to rebound as well. Food supplies are often more plentiful when the animals return after a long absence. Migrations may be one way that ecosystems keep themselves in balance.

Migrations are the true animal kingdom marathons and triathlons, proving one more time that each living individual is a survivor and a champion of its specie, each year betting their lives on it, whereas in human world only few take lower scale equivalent of long distance body and mind endurance challenges! This is one extra reason for all humans to respect wildlife and try to learn from, and to assure the survival of these champion species in a natural unspoiled environment, and a continuity of their migratory way of life, saving their most important spots for feeding and breeding along these essential for survival migratory routes!

World’s most amazing migrations images HERE, and their amazing record keepers, by CNN. And a great book to read: Where the Animals Go, Tracking Wildlife with Technology in 50 Maps and Graphics! Enjoy!

Where the Animals Go

Happy International Day of Forests!

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Today, with the occasion of International Day of Forests, let’s take the time and review few of most important well known benefits of forests for humanity and wildlife alike, to understand importance of fighting for for their long term preservation, in their actual state, limiting current intensive exploration by governments and private companies whose only short term and narrow minded objectives are material profits to benefit few!

Forests help us breath, also clean dirty air and keep the Planet cool: Trees absorb CO2 and emit Oxygen, essential for existence of life on Earth as we know it, whereas CO2 is stored in wood, leaves and soil, often for centuries, delaying global warming and maintaining a fragile ecosystem balance! Today’s combination of high CO2 human activity emissions and cutting down forests is leading to an accelerated global warming, with its associated disasters!

Home of biodiversity: Nearly half of all known species live in forests, estimated at 80% of biodiversity on land, including bugs and worms who work nutrients into soil, bees and birds spread pollen and seeds, and keystone top of the food chain species who keep herbivores in check, protecting on long term the well-being of forest!

Water regulator, as important part of water circuit in nature, refilling aquifers and important role in fighting floods: Large forests can influence multi-regional weather patterns, for example disappearance of Congo basin forest may impact climate on American continent! Regarding floods, tree roots are key allies in heavy rain, especially for low-lying areas like river plains. They help the ground absorb more of a flash flood, reducing soil loss and property damage by slowing the flow. Forests also act like giant sponges, catching runoff rather than letting it roll across the surface, but they can’t absorb all of it. Water that gets past their roots trickles down into aquifers, replenishing groundwater supplies that are important for drinking, sanitation and irrigation around the world.

They block wind: Groups of trees can also serve as a windbreak, providing a buffer for wind-sensitive crops and making it easier for bees to pollinate them.

They keep soil in place and clean dirty soil: A forest’s root network stabilizes huge amounts of soil, bracing the entire ecosystem’s foundation against erosion by wind or water. Not only does deforestation disrupt all that, but the ensuing soil erosion can trigger new, life-threatening problems like landslides and dust storms, or desertification. In addition to holding soil in place, forests may also help cleaning out certain pollutants. Trees can either sequester the toxins away or degrade them to be less dangerous. This is a helpful skill, letting trees absorb sewage overflows, roadside spills or contaminated runoff.

They feed us and give us medicine: Some trees provide fruits, nuts and other seeds and a wealth of natural medicines. The asthma drug comes from cacao trees, for example, while a compound in eastern red cedar needles has been found to fight an infection that resists many antibiotic drugs. About 70 percent of all known plants with cancer-fighting properties occur only in rain forests. Also many other medical benefits are yet to be explored and apply in practice, but large tropical forests disappear today faster than researchers have time to fully grasps all unexplored benefits!

They help explore and relax, reduce noise pollution and stress, lower blood sugar, help with better concentration, diminished pain and improved immunity for humans: Sound fades in forests, making trees a popular natural noise barrier, with just a few well-placed trees being able to cut background sound by about 50%! And because modern society is relatively a new born in evolutionary terms, humans may still feel natural in a forest, rather than a modern urban environment, supporting a multitude of hormones and natural process to occur in our bodies, making us happier people! It may even help us live longer!

Forests are pillars of human communities and here I am not referring to 1% richest of the planet, who probably could live happily in artificial underground palaces, if needed, but to majority 99% whose well-being and survival may depend on preservation of forests, on long term. I am sure through technology the problems as feeding the large population or shelter them may be over-come, but not sure you will feel happier, so it is in our majority interest to fight for a happier and greener future!

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